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New Approach Keeps Tumor Cells From Refueling
Date:11/21/2008

Finding might one day lead to a novel technique to combat cancer, study says,,,,

FRIDAY, Nov. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Belgian researchers have discovered that some cancer cells use lactic acid instead of sugar for food, and this might lead to new treatments that starve and kill these cells.

To survive and proliferate, all cells in the body need to produce energy. They do this by burning sugar [glucose], a process that requires oxygen. Compared with normal cells, tumor cells have restricted access to oxygen. Some tumor cells become starved for oxygen [hypoxic] and produce lactic acid. Until now, it was believed that both types of tumor cells used glucose as their main fuel, the study authors said.

"Using models of tumor cells, we found that well-oxygenated cells use lactate [lactic acid] as a preferential substrate to produce energy," said lead researcher Pierre Sonveaux, an associate professor at the University of Louvain Medical School in Brussels.

In other words, when these oxygenated cells choose between glucose and lactic acid, they choose lactic acid, Sonveaux explained. "The well-oxygenated cells thus recycle the waste product of hypoxic cells," he said.

The researchers identified the gate through which lactic acid enters oxygenated cells -- a transporter protein called MCT1 (monocarboxylate transporter 1). "The same transporter is present in the muscle where it helps to clear lactate to prevent cramps," Sonveaux said.

Tumors are famous for co-opting normal body functions, Sonveaux said. "What we identified is thus another example of usurpation by tumor cells of a normal system diverted to promote tumor growth," he said.

In experiments with mice with tumors, Sonveaux's group used a drug to block MCT1, preventing the oxygenated cells from using lactic acid as an energy source. These cells survived by switching to glucose, and they also stopped using oxygen.

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